In my feeble attempts to observe Lent this year I read (mostly) a devotional by Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own. It has short daily devotionals and prayers, just enough for a busy mother to be able to swallow each day. In one entry, he describes the night of the soul as liminal to a new day of the soul. He begins with Samuel, a little boy who is awoken in the middle of the night by the voice of God.
“But imagine! Like the boy Samuel, our real meetings (with God) are at night, if we take ‘night’ to be a metaphor for ‘down time’. Night is a time when we cannot see. Night is when we cannot control. Night is when children are frightened, because the shadows seem lively. Night is when things are unclear and beyond explanation. Night is when we are terrorized, and so we have bright lights all around the house to fend off the darkness. Night is when even adults are out of control, and we are visited by our haunted past and our feared futures and we dream and have nightmares… The nighttime is bewildering.”
This is where the world finds itself today. We are in the night, where we are uncertain and confused, where the worldly things where we have found comfort and security are revealed for the vanity they are. Where the tower of humanity’s greatness is toppling. We definitely do not have all the answers to why or how long. We cling to the security lights of simple, essential truths yet yearning for the whole world to be ablaze with the glory of day. We wonder about tomorrow and all its possible permutations. We are bewildered why pandemic and economic collapse is added to swarms of locusts and ever-present illness as the character of this night. We are living in the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
And yet, night is where God chooses to meet us, because without night there can never be a new day. We are here because God wantsto meet us. If we never walk through the night where we are unsettled, reminded of our own limitations and the hollowness of our strengths, then we would also never enter the new day where these truths live and walk and shine God.
The night is a time of anticipation. We can’t see clearly through to the other side of what will come when we’ve crossed this threshold, but it is a doorway nonetheless. We know that when the sun rises the world will open wide, that the sounds we heard in the dark will resolve into harmless, even inspiring aspects of God’s creation.
The night means that the former day is done. You will never be the same after this season. You will never return to the now oddly dim sun of yesterday. It is a rebirth, not of a phoenix from the ashes doomed to return again to a cycle of fire and life, but rather entering the night as a hawk and leaving it a sparrow. Entering it a finch and leaving it an owl, something wholly different, with new eyes, new scars and new vigor. This night is a threshold God has chosen for us all to cross in order to reach a new day, where His love and faithfulness are also somehow new.
The night is liminal, a harbinger of change, the first sign of newness. Despite the dark, let us hope with certainty that because we are in this night, the sun will rise, Christ will bid us “Peace!” and breathe life anew into our very souls. This is where it all begins.